If you told me a month ago that the Nashville Predators would start the season with a measly 3-5-2 record, earning just eight of a possible 20 points in their first 10 games, I would have laughed you out of the abnormally-warm state of Tennessee.
Yet, here we are.
One-eighth of the season has passed for the Predators and they sit dead-last in the Central division after suffering an excruciating shootout loss on Thursday night courtesy of the last-place team in the Western Conference, the Arizona Coyotes. It was a game that Nashville, which dominated most of the 65-minute affair, had no business losing.
Speaking of Thursday night’s stinker, full props to Coyotes netminder Louis Domingue, who stopped 37 of 39 shots – including six during an overtime period that saw Arizona’s head athletic trainer pay him a visit as Domingue battled cramps and dehydration. Nashville couldn’t find a way — though not for a lack of chances — to put more than two pucks behind Domingue.
Not to mention the fact that 14 of Nashville’s 39 shots came on its seven power play opportunities, the most they’ve seen the man-advantage in a game since Feb. 4 last season against the Philadelphia Flyers. For a team that’s still clicking at a 30 percent rate for the power play this season, not converting more than once against the sixth-worst penalty kill unit in the league is flat-out unacceptable.
The Predators offense was supposed to be one of the bright spots in the league this season, boasting players like James Neal, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and P.K. Subban to name a few. All four have combined for a total of four goals, including a shocking goose-egg from Forsberg, although he does lead the team in points with seven, all from assists.
Inconsistency is the main culprit. Nashville clearly has the capability of dispatching teams on any given night, doing so in a 5-1 romp of the Colorado Avalanche this past week and a 5-1 shellacking of the defending Stanley Cup champ Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 22. However, it’s few and far between. The Predators haven’t been able to realize any of their potential and are coming dangerously close to digging a hole that they could find themselves stuck in come the second half of the year.
If Nashville were to have won on Thursday night, regardless if it were to have come via a 3-on-3 overtime victory or a shootout win, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The narrative would have been on salvaging the road trip and heading back to the Music City with five out of a possible 10 points – forgetting about the previous week of ineptitude against the entire state of California.
Perhaps returning to Bridgestone Arena could be the right prescription for the Predators. Seven of the next 10, including the next four straight, will be from the confines of home ice for Nashville.
It won’t be a walk in the park, though.
Outside of an extremely winnable game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night, the Predators next three opponents – Ottawa, St. Louis and Anaheim, respectively — have a combined record of 16-12-4. That may seem like a “ho-hum” cumulative record, but with the way Nashville is playing it is concerning to say the least.
The Predators haven’t proven they can consistently beat tougher opponents. They haven’t proven they can beat teams hanging around the conference cellars, either. If Nashville can’t work itself back to a .500 record, at a bare minimum, by the end of next week, that metaphorical panic button may start being mashed faster and harder than a controller while playing Street Fighter.
BY THE NUMBERS
(3-5-2): Tied for the third-worst start in franchise history. Only the 1998-99 (3-6-1-0, seven points), 2009-10 (3-6-1, seven points) and 2002-03 (1-5-1-3, six points) started with a poorer record.
12: Power play goals, the most in the first 10 games for Nashville since the 2005-06 season. Only the 2002-03 team had more in 10 games (13).
5: Power play points for Mike Fisher, Ryan Johansen and P.K. Subban. All three are tied for 10th in the NHL in power play points.
21: Goals allowed for Pekka Rinne. Tied for the most he’s ever given up in the team’s first 10 games of the year, his 21 allowed has come off 248 shots – 50 fewer than the last time he gave up 21 in the same stretch of time during the 2011-12 season.
2: The number of players who have scored five of more goals to start the season without any assists. Craig Smith became the second player to do that on Thursday night, netting his fifth marker of the year. The other? James Neal in 2014-15 with seven in the first 10 games.